The high-profile launch this week of an effort to create a paid pass to access news content got a lot of attention because of the principals involved. JournalismOnline is the idea of veteran media execs Steven Brill, Gordon Crovitz, and Leo Hindery. Their venture
aims to supply publishers with ready-made tools to charge Internet
fees, an idea that has gained currency as advertising revenue plummets,
but whose prospects of success are doubted by many media analysts. The
company, which says it may have a product ready by the fall, says the
advantages are that publishers would not have to develop their own
systems and readers could use a single system for many different
Essentially, it’s a pass that readers would buy that would give them access to content orgs would put behind pay walls. Brill has been out trying to sell the idea but some critics are skeptical. I can’t see how the numbers work out in such a plan. To sign up enough news organizations to attract the tens of millions of readers it would take to make such a pass pay for lost traffic and ad revenue makes it unlikely.
But let’s assume for the moment that JournalismOnline could get enough newspapers to sign on and develop a large user base to generate significant revenue. I still think it’s too late. In the past couple of days, as I’ve talked to colleagues, I’ve been surprised that we all seem to be in agreement on this one. This is a deeply flawed idea that would only hasten the demise of traditional news organizations. The web now offers so many sources for news and opinion, that even though the traditional press is still the primary source for original reporting, it’s far from the only one. Throwing up walls around content will only make the new media sources stronger and provide them with more resources.
Yes, most of the good reporting is still in the traditional press. But that’s because the traditional press was the way such reporting was supported. That business model is falling away now, and newer news ventures are more nimble at adapting. So rather than help the cause of newspapers, JournalismOnline is likely to hurt it.
This is hardly scientific, but Markos Moulitsas at The Daily Kos decided to see which sources his site drew upon in a one week period.
While newspapers were the most common source of information, they
accounted for just 123 out of 628 total original information sources,
or just shy of 20 percent. And a huge chunk of that, up to half, came
from links in the Abbreviated Pundit Roundup, which is specifically
designed to track what some of the nation’s top pundits are yammering
about. In the unlikely and tragic event that every single newspaper
went out of business today, we’d have little problem replacing them as
a source of information. Even most of the pundits we’re following would
stick around somewhere or other. It’s not as if Paul Krugman’s fate is
intertwined in any way with the NY Times’.